Budget battle

Additionally, it restores funding to several nonprofits that were slashed in FY13.  Much enthusiasm for this proposed budget existed among county staff  because it accomplished all these things while cutting taxes.


However, some people think that the proposed school funding, which falls short of the schools’ requested amount of 14.1 million, is not enough.  Of the citizens who spoke, all but one agreed that the average homeowner’s savings of $40 per year did not sufficiently weigh against the negative impact a tax decrease would have on the schools.  As Superintendent Gena Keller presented her budget request, she noted that the school board has taken several significant steps to cut costs, including closing Cunningham and Columbia elementary schools and eliminating 33 positions, yet has a real need for additional funds.  “There is no fluff in that budget,” she stated.  “We need it to repair our system.”

Some members of the community in attendance agreed.  “It makes me uncomfortable to admit that it’s almost impossible to provide the same quality education for my students that I once did,” said Perrie Johnson, co-president of Fluvanna Education Association, “but Fluvanna has passed the point that professional expertise and a positive attitude can overcome anything.  Fluvanna schools are running on fumes.  At some point this becomes not a consequence of the economy but a conscious choice of the leadership.”

At the close of the budget presentation, school board member Carol Tracy Carr requested that if the supervisors moved not to adopt the equalized tax rate of 81.4 cents, they explain why.  “This is something we also will have to explain to our constituents,” she noted, since the school board must decide which programs and positions to cut in order to meet the budget given them by the county.

Chairperson Shaun Kenney began deliberations by noting that listening to constituents “doesn’t mean listening to only one side,” for there are many financially strapped taxpayers in the county who need a tax decrease.  In Fluvanna, 93% of tax revenues are generated by homeowners, as compared to 70% in “healthy” localities.

This results in an undue burden on both homeowners and renters, as Kenney made the point that landlords pass along tax increases by raising rent.  Although school advocates do not desire a tax increase, but instead favor an equalized rate, Kenney wants to “incrementally put back the things we’ve taken away,” explaining that the tax rate in Fluvanna has gone up 20% in the past few years.

Almost everyone in the county agrees that economic development is necessary to alleviate Fluvanna’s revenue woes.  Loath to jeopardize the ultimate solution, Kenney maintains that “businesses need to see that fairly competitive tax rates continue.”

In a surprising turn of events, long-time school advocate Mozell Booker made the motion to set the advertised tax rate at 79.5 cents, which would yield the schools 13.7 million rather than their requested 14.1 million.  “It’s killing me,” she said, obviously upset, “but I know you’re not going to get 81 [or] 80 [cents].”

During a brief second round of public comments, a few hopeful speakers urged the board to reconsider, reminding them that the meeting wasn’t over yet.  At that, Supervisor Joe Chesser was stirred to speak.  “I don’t agree with 79.5 cents.  I don’t think we’ve done the right thing,” he stated.  In hopes of advertising the tax rate at 80 cents, he made a motion to reconsider.  Despite Booker’s quick second, the motion failed 2-3.  “So be it,” Chesser said.

Fluvanna’s FY14 advertised real property tax rate is now set at 79.5 cents per $100 valuation, and the advertised personal property tax rate is set at $4.15 per $100 valuation.  Supervisors will hold a public hearing on the proposed budget and tax rates on April 10 and will make a final decision on April 17.  Although the final tax rate may be lower than the advertised 79.5 cents, it cannot be higher.



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